Cole & Son, a London-based wallpaper manufacturer established in 1875, recently launched its collection of autumn wallpapers, including a particularly striking harlequin pattern of overlain colors called "Circus" that proves the 136-year-old company can do modern with as much depth as the historical. These papers are manufactured—"manu," by hand, being the operative root—barely north of central London in Haringey, where the tiny Cole & Son factory rolls out a quarter of a million meters of high-end wallcoverings per year. On the ground floor of the two-floor warehouse, a 130-year old machine sits beside a shinier digital printer of a mere 30 years. Though they don’t look old enough, some workers have been there for decades and have children working there too. “It’s like anything you do,” says a screen printer named Jason who has been mastering his craft for 25 years. “You just get used to it and then it’s easy.”
As with most trade fairs, it was difficult to find dense clumps of strong design at the London Design Festival; instead gems were dispersed throughout. When an object did stand out, the work was clever, as exemplified by a flat-pack boat made by two recent RCA grads; gracefully technical as in Jake Dyson’s handsome and super-long-lasting (will-it-to-your-grandchildren) task lamp; or adorned with traces of the maker’s hands as was Johannes Nagel’s pottery. Creativity was found, and hailed from, everywhere: The Australians made a fine showing at Designjunction while the streets of London, itself, provided wall space for those who didn’t want to hire an exhibition booth at Earls Court.
Curated by Héloise Park at the Aram Gallery, the Geenen & Hoon exhibition brings together two young furniture makers who approach design through structure—but from opposite ends of the nature-nurture spectrum. It is a good-looking show filled with the artifacts capable of depicting the design process succinctly: sketches, models, maquettes, prototypes and even machine-like molds.
“I’m not just making up shapes. I’m letting the shapes be defined by natural forces,” explains Bram Geenen, a graduate of Utrecht’s HKU who is now based in Amsterdam. Geenen often works in collaboration with tech companies and begins by repurposing their cutting-edge production techniques or materials, but winds up with organic forms derived from physics and the properties of his materials and “better, stronger, lighter, more sustainable products,” he says. “Today any shape you can imagine, you can build. It forces me to be very careful and honest in choosing my forms.”
London-based Il Hoon Roh, trained at the Architectural Association and as a product designer at the Royal College of Art, works from the point-of-view of nature and ends up with extraordinary machines that produce elastically oozing forms. His table on show has aesthetic qualities but its form actually illustrates how forces flow from the table top to the ground, he says. “The forms of nature are not accidental at all. The organic beauty is there for a reason.”
Albeit with more drizzle and more crowded aisles, 100% Design in Earls Court, London, resembles New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair in that it is small and easily digested. 100% Design has its share of big-booth brands and practical tools, materials and production processes for the foot soldiers of the interior design industry but this year, it also featured interesting international contingents from Chile, Norway, Korea and the UK, and a couple of strong examples of booth design, one by Dutchman Ben van Berkel’s UN Studio and the other by Paris-born, New York-based designer and musician Sebastien Agneessens for, of all things, a Turkish real estate developer-cum-design lab called Nef.
The ancient Greeks did it in the agora; the Romans did it in the forum; Persians did it in the bazaar (“the place of prices”); and Arabs and Berbers did it in the labyrinthine souk. Today, whether we’re home in our underwear, duty-free at the airport, or tapping at our phones, shopping still makes the world go ‘round.
Finding the perfect home sometimes means creating it. Renovation can require as much effort in the planning as in the execution so you’ll need some patience—and you should arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible before jumping in. Here are some essentials to consider: